Choosing a care home

Find out how to pick the right care home

Sarah Pennells – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Sarah Pennells | Independent Money Mentor

Founder of SavvyWoman and award-winning journalist


Choosing a care home for your mum or dad is not an easy task. Feelings of guilt, concern and confusion at entering new territory may be mixed with financial worry as well. You may be worried that you can’t do more and your parent may be worrying about becoming a burden. Set your worries aside and find out more about all the things you should look for and who will pay.


Plan in advance

Many people decide to go into a care home after a crisis, such as a fall or sudden diagnosis of an illness. This can mean important decisions have to be made in a hurry and under a lot of stress.

If you can have a conversation with your parents about the type of care they would eventually like, should it be needed, it will take the pressure off you when the time comes. Ask your parents:

  • Whether they’d like to remain at home at all costs or would they move into a care home for more support and company?
  • What’s important to them? Do they have a pet that they’d like to keep with them? Do they want a busy care home with lots of activities or, if they’re not very sociable, would they prefer somewhere quiet?
  • Do they want to live somewhere with an accessible garden or is outside space not important to them?

You may not feel able to have this kind of conversation with your parents. Most of us don’t like to think we’ll end up in a care home and talking about it can make it feel a bit more real. But it’s definitely worth trying.


Types of care home

There are several types of care home:

  • Residential homes: Known as “care homes”, these facilities provide help with day-to-day personal care, such as getting up and dressed and washing or showering.
  • Nursing care homes: Usually called “care homes with nursing” they provide care that is supervised by registered nurses. It is often an option if your parent has medical issues which require more regular treatment and support.
  • EMI care homes: A home that has the letters EMI in its description can offer care for people with dementia and similar conditions. It stands for elderly mentally and infirm and specialises in care for those that most need it.

Any care home may offer more than one type of care and you should investigate to see which is most suitable for one or both of your parents.


Paying for care

Early considerations when considering a care home are likely to be location and budget. If your parent has savings and capital above a certain level, which includes the value of their home if they live alone, they will have to pay fees themselves.

If they have modest savings and rent their home, or have a spouse, partner or close family member over the age of 60 living in their home, its value will be ignored and the local authority will pay towards the care home costs. Any pension income your parent has will go towards the care home fees, and they’ll be left with a small weekly allowance.


Choosing a care home

Don’t rush into choosing a care home. The standard of care varies from provider to provider and home to home so it’s worth doing a bit of shopping around. Consider these tips:

  • Involve your parent as much as you can. If they have dementia, then depending on their level of awareness, this may not be possible. If they are mentally active and able to make decisions themselves then they should be encouraged to do so.
  • Visit at least three different care homes. Ask if your parent can stay for a few days as a trial if you think that would be useful. They could spend years in this home and it is important that they’re happy there so don’t rush a decision.
  • Watch how staff interact with residents. Do they talk to residents with warmth or talk over them? Will the type of care you see on show be suitable for your parent?
  • What are the meals like? Residents should be offered a choice (with vegetarian and other dietary options available) and the meals should be appetising. Some care homes have even hired award-winning chefs.
  • Find out what activities are available. The care home should have a designated activities co-ordinator, so see if you can talk to them. Movie nights, excursions and events like bingo may be offered.
  • Find out what trips the care home organises and whether residents are encouraged to go outside or left in the day room with the TV blaring.
  • Is the care home clean and does it look homely or like an institution?
  • Find out what the home’s rating is. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of adult social care, including care homes, in England. You can find rating information on the CQC website. In Scotland, the Care Inspectorate takes on this role, in Wales it’s the Care and Social Services Inspectorate and in Northern Ireland it’s the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

Useful links

Look on websites related to the illness your parent has, for example the Alzheimer’s Society website.

The carehome website has lots of reviews by relatives of people living in care.

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.